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Thursday, December 18, 2014

December 18: On This Day

Time for another meme on this third night of Chanukah...

On This Day In History:

1655: It's decided in England that there's no law preventing the Jews from returning; they were kicked out in 1290 when Edward I and his family had squeezed the last penny out of them, but Oliver Cromwell's government let them back in. Whatever you think of him, that's something he did right.

1719: "Mother Goose's Melodies For Children" first published.

1796: First US newspaper to appear on a Sunday, the Baltimore Monitor. Ah, there's something nice about being able to sit back on the weekend and have a newspaper with breakfast!

1839: First celestial photo taken in the US, of the moon.

1849: Ten years later, William Bond takes the first photo of the moon through a telescope.

1912: Piltdown Man hoax - the "finding" is announced. Now, that must have been a scandal in its time, with that so-called "missing link"!

1958: First voice from space is heard, a prerecorded Christmas message from President Eisenhower.

1966: Discovery of Epimetheus, moon of Saturn

Birthdays:

1879: the artist Paul Klee, who did all those very pretty modern art paintings



Paul Klee: Tempelgarten. Public domain.

1907: Christopher Fry, British playwright. I once saw his play Ring Around The Moon. 

1913 Alfred Bester, SF writer most famous for The Demolished Man. As a tribute to him, the name was given to the head of the Psi Corps in Babylon 5(played by Walter Koenig, who was Chekov in Star Trek, of course)

1939: Michael Moorcock, British SF/F writer. Best known for the Elric stories, but I have only read his novel Behold The Man. Very strange story!

Holidays and Observances

There are a fair few holidays and observances at this time of year, especially in the Christian calendar, but my favourite is the celebration of the Celtic horse goddess Epona, which happened during the Roman Saturnalia. 

Some of the bits of Christmas we know well come from the Saturnalia, by the way. The exchange of gifts, for example, and I suspect the Mediaeval Twelfth Night Lord of Misrule must have started with the Saturnalia, when everything was topsy turvey and the slaves got to issue orders and be served dinner by their masters. I don't imagine they took too much advantage of this, since afterwards everything went back to normal...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

December 16 Meme

Today is the first evening of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, of spinning dreidels, of kids getting cash gifts from the family, of eating oily things in memory of the miracle of the oil lamps in the Temple - hey, any excuse to eat doughnuts and potato latkes!

It's also, in history, the date of a lot of other things.

Here are some of them.

On This Day In History

1497:  Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama rounds the Cape of Good Hope.
1707:  Last recorded eruption of Mt Fuji in Japan.
1773:  The Boston Tea Party. Protest against tea tax. 
1927 – Donald Bradman scores a century in his first game of first-class cricket for NSW agains South Australia

Birthdays - an embarrassment of riches!

1485: Catherine of Aragon, subject of a lot of writing, from biography to fiction. Imagine how different the world would have been if she'd given Henry a living son...

1775: Jane Austen! Yay!

1866: Wassily Kandinsky, Russian-French artist(there's a Google doodle in his honour. If you miss it, they do have a stash of them online)

1899: Noel Coward, British playwright and composer

1901: Margaret Mead, the American anthropologist

1917: Arthur C Clarke, classic SF writer

1927: Peter Dickinson, who has written quite a lot of spec fic for children and teens. For adults, among other things, there was King And Joker, an alternative universe crime novel set in Buckingham Palace. 

1928: Phillip K Dick. If you haven't read any of his books, I'm betting you've seen at least one movie based on something he wrote, such as Bladerunner.

1933: Quentin Blake, who illoed all those Roald Dahl stories.

1967: Miranda Otto, Aussie actress whom you would likely have seen in LOTR.  I believe she went to school with one of the ASIM members, so we have an interview with her in one of our earlier issues.

It may also be the birthday of Ludwig Van Beethoven(1770), but I'm uncertain. He was baptised on the 17th.

There are more, but these will do. As I said, an embarrassment of riches among all the people who, in one way or another, have made the world a nicer place to live.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

December 14 Meme

And here's another interesting day in history!

Birthdays: 

1503: Nostradamus! Author of all those vague "prophecies" inspiring so many conspiracies

1546: Tycho Brahe, astronomer, back in the days when that job was new and exciting and possibly dangerous if you lived in the wrong country and got on the wrong side of the Church...( fortunately for him, he didn't). And he did it all without a telescope! PS He nearly became a lawyer!

1968: Rachel Cohn, YA novelist. I know her via her delightful co-authorship with David Levithan of some wonderful novels, such as Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist. 

1640: birth or at least baptism, of  Aphra Behn, who wrote far more plays, some of them still being performed, than the more famous Oliver Goldsmith, who wrote about three plays. She was also a novelist and a spy. Poor woman, she had some exciting adventures, did a lot of good stuff for her country, was never paid and then they issued a warrant for her arrest as a debtor!  Probably a good thing for us, because being broke meant she started her writing career to earn a living. One of the first professional female writers. I wrote about her in my children's book on spies. Possibly I would have made it into the Cranky Ladies anthology if I'd chosen her instead of Margaret Bulkely aka Dr James Barry. ��


Public Domain portrait of Aphra Behn, by Peter Leły

Events: 

1542: the baby Mary Stuart becomes Queen of Scots and inspires a whole lot of writing, from bios to historical romance to SF, if you count that story by Fritz Leiber in which Elizabeth I is replaced by an agent/actress who has to make the vital decision.

1900: Max Planck, physicist, presents a paper that leads to the birth of quantum physics. I'm sadly deficient in the knowledge of physics, but even I know this is exciting! 

1962: Mariner 2 flyby of Venus. Yay!

1972: The last men on the moon leave. (Sob! No women ever got the chance to go)

2012: Sad event, but I must mention, the Sandy Hook school massacre. �� And the NRA, far from admitting maybe there should be a change in the gun laws, suggests teachers should be armed. I did NOT sign up for murder of ANYONE when I qualified as a teacher. 

Today has some Christian connotations, such as John of the Cross(Spanish Saint). He also wrote poetry and stuff about the growth of the soul, so I guess he counts as a writer.

It's also Martyred Intellectuals Day in Bangladesh, to commemorate some intellectuals who were killed in 1971 when the enemies in the Liberation War apparently tried to stop the new nation from having an intellectual focus. There's a memorial built to them in Bangladesh.

And it's an international Monkey day, dedicated to apes in general. Let's hope they aren't all DipEd out in the quest for more palm oil and human "lebensraum". 

Friday, December 12, 2014

December 13 Meme - Happy Birthday, Bianca!

For my nephew Mark's lovely wife Bianca... Here are some things that happened on your birthday !

On This Day: 

Not much in history about books or writing that I could find, so I thought I'd go for exciting explorer stuff because of the sensawunda it inspires in SF, my first love.

1577 : Sir Francis Drake sails off from Plymouth on his first round-the-world voyage.

1642: Abel Tasman, after whom our beautiful Tasmania is named, reached New Zealand. This is the closest I can get to something Aussie-related.

1972 : the Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt walked on the moon. This is the last time, to date, that humans have walked there. I remember reading an interview with Michael Collins where he was asked if he'd accept an invitation to go back to the moon. He said no, but he'd be all for going to Mars if he could. My favourite of the three Apollo 11 astronauts!

Author Birthdays: 

Slim pickings here, but I did find one I'd read and enjoyed.

Lucia Gonzales, children's writer and librarian

Ross MacDonald, author of a lot of hard boiled detective fiction about a sleuth called Lew Archer, was known as the heir to Dashiell Hammett.

AND - Ta da! The wonderful Tamora Pierce, author of the Lioness books and many others. Her heroine was a girl who wanted to be a knight and swapped places with her twin brother, who had other ambitions, disguised herself as a boy and went off to be a page. Go read them if you haven't and ... many happy returns, Tamora, one of my Goodreads friends! Tamora blogs regularly and is one of the few big name author members of Goodreads I know who actually reviews other people's books and lets people friend her instead of just becoming "fans" who can't communicate. I get the feeling with some of these folk that they're only there on the advice of agents and publicists to get a social media profile.

Celebrations

Today, by the way, is St Lucy's Day (aka Santa Lucia). Thought I'd mention it because my much-valued and respected library technician us a Lucy/Lucia.

I gather it's a festival centred around light because it used to be the (European) winter solstice before the calendar changed. Which reminds me, time to get the Chanukah candles, as our own feast of lights begins Tuesday night. Time to stock up on potatoes for the traditional latkes and find my way down to the doughnut stand at Footscray railway station, as doughnuts are also a tradition(anything oily to eat, you see, though I don't recall chips being a tradition...)  

Below is a Public Domain image of Saint Lucy. See the eyes in the dish? Part of the legend, in which her eyes were poked out or maybe she poked them out herself to put off a suitor. Ew! Yuk! But she's the patron saint of the blind.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

December 11 Meme

December 11: On This Day

What Happened: 

Nothing literary that I could find, so here are some that caught my eye: 

1620: landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock(this one for my US readers)

1901: Marconi sends first transatlantic radio signal - wow! When you think of where that led - just wow!

1936: Edward VIII announces on the radio that he's abdicating to marry Wallis Simpson and history takes a turn for the better(he was known for sympathising with the Nazis)

1997: The Kyoto Protocol - in which 150 nations get together to do the right thing. And all these years later we're STILL facing climate change because short-sighted politicians would  rather look after the economy and jobs - their own jobs - than look after the planet their descendants will inherit. 



Happy Birthday To:

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - Author of a lot of books that got him into trouble in the Soviet Union, including The Gulag Archipelago and - the one that got him exiled - One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich. (I once saw a Year 7 boy reading this and assuring me he loved it. Pity this was in my pre-TL days. The boy had the unforgettable name of Vincent Price)

Laini Taylor, YA novelist, author of Daughter Of Smoke And Bone, which I still haven't read.

Aussie writer and illustrator Roland Harvey, whose cartoon style has become very familiar to school librarians and kids over the years. 

Today also seems to be Upper Volta's Independence Day.

Aurealis Reading... Continuing

The entries for the Aurealis Awards closed last Sunday, but that doesn't necessarily mean there will be no more books to read - they can enter in advance, then send the works till the end of this month. As it is, there is a pie f George Ivanoff Chose Your Own Adventure titles I don't have yet, but that are on the list. I've been adding them to a "shelf" on Goodreads as I receive them. They automatically come up as "reading" even if you haven't started.

It has been a real eye-opener to see what is entered - from children's picture books to the latest volume of some fat fantasy series, to short stories to self-published ebooks, and small press and self- published paperbacks. Some perfectly good contemporary novels seem to have been entered because they mention fantastical creatures, though these never appear. 

The other night, I was about to go to bed when there was a ring at my doorbell. It was my neighbour, who had kindly accepted a box of books on my behalf. They weren't even on the list yet. There are some Catherine  Jinks books, the latest book in the Troubletwisters series, the latest Geoffrey McSkimming Phyllis Wong novel, an Allison Rushby book very different from her novel The Heiresses...

I have a long way to go! Even if they don't send any more, there are thirteen books on my "reading" shelf on Goodreads...

This Year...And Next...Mostly Reposted From My Other Blog


Yesterday we had the campus awards afternoon. The students who had been nominated for a prize went up to receive it - several of my students and former students were among them. I said a fond farewell to those who had reached Year 10 and were ff to our senior campus where, incidentally, there is no longer a library, just a great big space empty of shelves, with tables and chairs. 

For the time being I still have a library to run and kids to use it. And I have heard what I'm doing next year, apart from running my library. 

Each year I have had to do something different. From Year 11 English to junior ESL (or EAL as it's now known), then on to Year 8 English and Pathways, the homeroom subject. And each time I got the hang of  a subject - and I did very well at Pathways - I was given another challenge. This year's challenge has been teaching history.

I love history - but loving something isn't necessarily the same as teaching it. Just because you enjoy reading about something doesn't always mean that you can pass it on.

Have I done well? I'd like to think so, but the truth is, I have had to do the same as everyone else and bullshit my way through, asking for help every now and then from more experienced staff. Sometimes you have to do that. Some things have worked, others haven't.

Making iMovies worked the first time. If I had to teach history again, I would use that, but find a way to make the kids comfortable with it and learn more about it myself. For example, in English, Literature Circles, this year students were allowed to use iMovie to prepare book trailers. They had learned from me in history how to do it.

 That sort of worked, but what none of us had realised was that you couldn't get back to the unfinished task on the school iPads unless you had left it there. So some students who had made a book trailer - unfinished - on iMovie and saved it to the school's Public Share couldn't finish it. What they had done was quite good, but looked a bit silly in the blank grey bits. We - my colleague and I -accepted it anyway, because they had done their best. If I was doing this next year, I would make sure that they spent the entire double period on it, first collecting photos, then slotting them into place.

We had two classes joined for Literature Circles because mine was too small to do it without merging classes - and since we were on at the same time, we would have been competing for resources and space. Two classes together worked last year, but not quite as well as last year, because we had a larger number of difficult students and several integration students and only one aide available to help - last year we had two.

Still, we worked out as best we could which students would go into which groups and which books they could handle.

Some things worked, others didn't - and there were a few students who were given books too difficult for them, which it took us too long to realise. We did make some late changes, giving those students easier books which they were to read by themselves and produce a PowerPoint as their response - the simplest thing to do.

There were a few who had handed in very little this year and were not about to begin now, but we did what we could. I hope they'll mature next year.

We finished with a reflection by the students about what they had gotten out of it. That will help for next year.

One difficult student admitted to me "My behaviour hasn't been stellar this year, has it?" I agreed that it hadn't, but at the time I was talking with him about a story I had asked him to rewrite so it can go into the school anthology and persuading him to put his name on it, since he now had something to be proud of.

That's now happening. His story will be in the next anthology and he will be able to show off a bit. Maybe next year he will have matured? He was the student whose group messed up their podcast.

My history students did their posters and Powerpoints and booklets on the Aztecs. I've put up the posters, which are very good. I've done their last test for the year and am pleased at how well they all did - apart from one student who had been away a lot, everyone got high marks, including my most difficult student who has been improving and got full marks.

My survey of my literacy students worked well. Despite there being some who had been noisy and rude, even they ticked "agree" or "strongly agree" for questions as to how supportive/helpful,etc. I had been (and I overheard one say, "Oh, yes, she is, she really is!" And he was one who had given me a headache many times.

If I had these classes next year I would have a better idea what to do.

But I have been told that next year will be different again, with yet another challenge. . Creative Writing! I have never had writing lessons myself, so how do I give lessons to others? I have been thinking about this carefully. All I can do is offer them the chance to write and submit and the benefit of my own experience as a writer. I'm taking a little survey of students who have signed up for it, to find out what they hope to get out of it. There hasn't been the chance to get together with the other two CW teachers, though I have sent emails and spoken to one. They're both English teachers and will have to make the best of their own experience.

I will have a Year 7 EAL class, but I believe it is straightforward, just a double period a week while the other students are doing Vietnamese or Italian. I think I can handle that, if I discuss it with the EAL teacher.

I'm looking after the Year 10 Psychology students once a week, but I used to do that anyway till this year and it didn't count as part of my allotment.

And of course, there will be Sunlit (literacy class). Hopefully, I will continue with the same reading level as this year. I'm quite comfortable with this subject and actually felt left out one day when everyone else had begun and mine hadn't been sorted out yet.

I'm very tired and there's still so much to do!





Friday, December 05, 2014

Recent Goodies Downloaded!

You know how it is when you're reading something, perhaps a folklore article, and that makes you think of something else and then you want to read -or maybe reread - that?

Thanks to the WWW and our friend Mr Gutenberg, you can do that instantly these days. This week, I've grabbed a couple by Joseph Jacobs, who was around at the same time as Andrew Lang, of the multi-coloured Fairy Books and others - English Fairytales and More English Fairytales, because I wanted to check out a couple of stories that were supposed to be in Andrew Lang and didn't seem to be in my Gutenberg version. Dick Whittington was one. You know, poor boy makes good with the help of his cat. I sometimes wonder if there were already stories around in the time of the real Mr Whittington and how he felt about them. It's interesting that there are no fantastical elements in it, unless you count the idea that one cat could rid an entire kingdom of rats, or that the king wouldn't simply take the cat instead of paying a fortune for it...

While I was about it, I also picked up Popular Tales From The Norse, because of that story "How The Sea Became Salt". You know, the one where someone gets hold of a mill that grinds food and such for you, but he forgets, or isn't told, how to stop it, so it goes right on grinding salt, which salts the sea. I had some vague memory that it was pre-Christian, but no, not in this book.

On Project Gutenberg I also found some more out-of-copyright classic SF, this time by John W Campbell, the great Golden Age editor, after whom an award for new writers is named.

You know, I'd never read E.Nesbit's classic Five Children And It and this week I decided it was about time. And what a great romp it is! Our five middle-class children, whose parents can be missing because the maid can be left to babysit them, get into all sorts of trouble when they find a grumpy sand fairy, the Psammead, who can grant one wish a day, but not permanent - it all vanishes at sunset, which is mostly just as well. Somehow, they never seem to get it right and all sorts of disasters happen when you get what you wish for...

I got the first issue of an online magazine called Alt Hist, which the editor leaves up for free as a sample of what he's after for potential contributors. The magazine pays a token fee to contributors, but it pays and I am currently looking for another market for the adventures of my cranky lady of history. I don't know yet, but I'm reading. It takes both historical fiction and alternative history, which I think is interesting. So far read only a couple of stories. One of them I liked, a very silly story about a couple of characters in the early Midde Ages trying unsuccessfully to destroy a statue of the Virgin which had fallen on a noble lady, whose grieving husband had sentenced it to execution.

It's always worth checking the iBooks store to see if they have their free "first of a series" offer. You can get some great stuff there for a limited time and I have, in the past, such as Kerry Greenwood's Earthly Delights and a Kate Forsyth volume. I also got a first book in a series of which I was sent the sequel to review and couldn't because it made no sense by itself.

 This time it was only crime fction, mostly thrillers, but I found one called Spying In High Heels, part of a series in my local library.

My paid book download this week was The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera, on which the movie is based. Enjoyable so far.

Of course, I also have a couple of  ebook Aurealis entries, which I won't name yet, because I don't want to go trough the whole "this is only my opinion" thing. Later, when the judging is over, I might.

So, that's my haul for this week. Anyone else got something to share?




Thursday, December 04, 2014

December 4 Meme!



To dearest Rachel, my nephew's younger girl, who turns 11 today,

Here are some things connected with your birthday. I couldn't find too many writing-related things, but some - and the others are still interesting.

Without further ado, here they are!

Birthdays

1777: Juliette Recamier, who kept a salon where a whole lot of famous literary and political figures visited. A kind of sofa was named after her.


Jacques-Louis David painting, Madame Recamier. Public Domain

1795: Thomas Carlyle, Scottish historian and essayist. He wrote about the French Revolution.

1883:  Katharine Susannah Prichard, Aussie writer. Journalist, novelist(the first to receive international recognition), film writer, playwright, founding member of the Australian Communist Party. 

1910: Alex North, film composer. Most famous for the score of Spartacus. Less well known is that he wrote a score for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, before it was decided to go with  the classical music we know so well, which was only meant to give some idea of what the score was meant to sound like. 

Things That Happened 

1674: Founding of a settlement on the shores of Lake Michigan that eventually became Chicago.

1791: First edition of The Observer, the world's oldest Sunday newspaper.

1872: Finding of the mysteriously deserted ship Mary Celeste, which has inspired a LOT of fiction!

1923: Premiere of Cecil B DeMille's silent Ten Commandments.

1986: Premiere of Neil Simon's play Broadway Bound.

Special Days

St Barbara's Day - a possibly fictional saint who is the patron of armourers, architects, firemen and, oddly, mathematicians.


St Barbara Public Domain

In the Eastern tradition, it's also her day as Eid il-Burbara, which is a celebration similar to Halloween, though it's possibly even older. Kids go around the houses in costume, people give them a sort of pudding with sweet things in it and the bakeries do very nicely with festive pastries. It's also a tradition to start sprouting plants that are later used with the Christmas decorations.

In the Roman Empire it was the holiday of the Bona Dea, the Good Goddess, which was strictly secret women's business. You could get into HUGE trouble if you were a man trying to get in to see what was going on!